University of California (UC) Personal Insights

Writing a college essay for the University of California (UC) can be a daunting task, but it’s also an exciting opportunity to showcase your personality, interests, and achievements to the admissions committee. In this blog post, we’ll provide you with three concrete steps to help you get started on your UC essay.

Step 1: Brainstorm Ideas

Before you start writing your essay, it’s important to take some time to brainstorm ideas. Consider the prompts provided by the UC and think about which one resonates with you the most. For example, the UC prompts for 2021-2022 include the following:

  1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.
  2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem-solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.
  3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

Once you have chosen a prompt, start brainstorming ideas for your essay. You can use a mind map, a list, or just free-write to generate ideas. Don’t worry about making them perfect – just focus on coming up with as many ideas as possible.

Step 2: Create an Outline

Once you have some ideas for your UC essay, it’s time to create an outline. This will help you organize your thoughts and ensure that your essay has a clear structure. Your outline should include the following elements:

  • An introduction that captures the reader’s attention and provides background information on the topic of your essay.
  • A thesis statement that clearly states the main idea or argument of your essay.
  • Body paragraphs that support your thesis statement with examples and evidence.
  • A conclusion that summarizes the main points of your essay and leaves the reader with a final thought or reflection.

Here’s an example of an outline for a UC essay:

I. Introduction
- Hook: Personal anecdote about my leadership experience
- Background: Description of the leadership experience and its significance
- Thesis: I learned valuable lessons about leadership and teamwork from this experience

II. Body Paragraph 1: The importance of communication and collaboration
- Example: How I communicated with my team members to ensure that everyone was on the same page
- Evidence: The positive feedback I received from my team members

III. Body Paragraph 2: The value of adaptability and flexibility
- Example: How I had to adapt to changing circumstances and unexpected challenges
- Evidence: The successful outcome of the project despite these challenges

IV. Body Paragraph 3: The power of persistence and determination
- Example: How I persevered in the face of obstacles and setbacks
- Evidence: The final result of the project and the sense of accomplishment I felt

V. Conclusion
- Restate thesis
- Summarize main points
- Reflection: The lessons I learned from this experience and how they will help me in the future

Step 3: Write Your Essay

Now that you have brainstormed ideas and created an outline, it’s time to start writing your UC essay. Follow your outline and fill in the details for each section. Remember to use specific examples and evidence to support your thesis statement and make your essay convincing.

Also, don’t forget to proofread your essay and check for grammar. Let a handful of people read it and ask them if they understand the points you are trying to make and tell you what they learn about it.

You got it! Good luck!

If you are looking for advice for college transfer to UCs, see

It’s not a setback. It’s the path you choose — choose to transfer to better!

person stands on brown pathway
Photo by Tobi on

College transfer path. People who care for you want the best for you. It’s natural for them to think that going to community college and transferring instead of attending a 4-year university right after high school seems risky. Don’t forget the downheartedness that almost everyone else is going to a big university with an exciting future, and only a few of you are going to community colleges. You are seen as the “loser” who did not get into a college.

But let’s clarify a few things about choosing to transfer.

  • It’s your choice, and because you believe you will have a better chance to get into your dream colleges than right off high school.
  • It’s you who put yourself in this situation; community college transfer is your way to redeem yourself.
  • You are not alone; many are on this transfer journey because they all believe they can do better.
  • Lastly, people who want the best for you might not know what is best for you, and it’s time to take the responsibility for yourself.

Think this way — it seems like everyone is going to colleges, either community or 4-year colleges, but they are all going for different reasons. So, they pick different colleges and majors.

In high school, you can group people into a few categories — the popular, the geeks, the nerds, the try-hard, the drop-offs…etc. But if you ask them what major they are going to study, you will find everyone is taking a different path.

My question to you is — what is your path? Again, people who care for you want the best for you but might not know what is best for you. If you do not know what is best for you, make sure you talk to people you trust along the college transfer journey but make your own decisions after hearing a few opinions (more is not always better in this case). Are you making the best choice based on your circumstances? Is college transfer the best option for you? If the answer is “Yes,” then stop worrying about what other people think about your journey and get it over with so you can proudly say, “I transferred to [Your Dream College]!”

Ready to start? Check out the roadmap and start planning

Is an SAT score more important than a high school GPA for college admissions?

You are looking at the competitive college admissions wrong.

Competitive colleges NEVER emphasize one item more than another. They look at your overall character.

That means EVERYTHING. But that doesn’t mean you need to be good at everything but you continue to develop your character and manage student basic responsibilities such as school attendance and class performance.

Instead of thinking about that whether SAT or GPA is what colleges want to see, I want you to think about what do YOU want to show colleges?

For examples:

  • If your GPA is not good because of bad class choices or teachers, but you are confident with your academic ability, score high on your SAT and prove it.
  • If you are not good at test-taking but do well in a classroom setting then talk to your teachers for extra credit or seek improvement from time to time to get a good GPA.

More importantly, think that every student only has 24 hours a day.

No one is going to be The capital/chair/president of something + 4.0 GPA + 1600 SAT and neither do you. Colleges do not expect to see that either (that often means the student got A LOT of help and that usually backstabs them)

Take a look at the list below and develop a character that you are comfortable building:


  1. Go through each item and write down what has been accomplished or aim to accomplish this year
    • If you know the information then record it.
    • If you have not thought about or you will do in the future then write down the time you are going to work on it.
  2. Depending on your grade level, count how many years you have until your graduation from high school. For example, if you are a starting sophomore then you have three years.
  3. Go through each item again and write down what do you think you can achieve in the number of years you have left in high school.
    • If you are not sure about it or you are unable to think of a concrete idea, just brainstorming notes are fine


  • Academic Record:
    • GPA
    • Class Rank (if any)
    • Rigor of Curriculum (AP/Honor)
  • Standardized Test Scores:
    • SAT
    • ACT
    • SAT2
    • AP Exam
    • Other
  • Engagement Outside of the Classroom:
    • Extra-Curricular Activities
    • Community Service
    • Work Experience or Creative Project
    • Other
  • Personal Qualities:
    • Letter of Recommendation
    • College Essays (Theme)
    • Counselor Interview Report
    • Other
  • Hooks and Institutional Priorities:
    • Legacy Connection
    • Donation Potential
    • Underrepresented Ethnicity
    • Socioeconomic/
    • Geographic Background
    • Exceptional Talents
    • Level of Interest

admission pro tip #1 – volunteer opportunities

In this post, I want to bring a new perspective to look at volunteering (if you are in HS) or internships (if you are in college). If you are struggling to find the motivation or the meaning to do community service, this post will help you to navigate through the noises and find the right reason for it.

Let’s look at these three students:

Adam is Boys State delegate, VP of student council, and lead actor in regional production of Grease. Counselor notes theater is a college interest and that he’s talented in both musicals and plays.

Bryn is debate president, field hockey co-captain, and is taking self-taught, online Mandarin classes. Latin teacher says she has a knack for quickly learning languages.

Corey is choir secretary, a varsity softball player, and yearbook treasurer. Her counselor notes her impact in changing school social dynamic by solely persuading peers to abolish exclusive class yearbook superlatives and instead allow EACH student to name his own. (Corey has awarded herself “Class Upcycler.”)

Corey’s title is not as prestigious as VP or co-captain but the impact described by her counselor shows her character and deep commitment to changing the social dynamic.

Most students look at volunteering as a graduation or admission requirement. These students tend to accumulate a lot of “volunteering hours” with a “prestigious title” like the president of a “Newly-Founded Organization.”

If you feel pressured to stand out, you are probably not doing it right. Do what you enjoy and have fun doing the most, whether is conventional or not. College admissions are very competitive but they are looking for students who truly do the volunteering work because they care. Therefore, they are more likely to continue to contribute when they are in college and bring impact to their campus.

When you find your interests and participate in the opportunities that show your work and strength, colleges see your character and commitment to a cause.

Participate in community services that you enjoy and have fun with.

  • Identify what excites you
  • Get recognition and feedback on your strengths and impect
  • Connect with people and communities who want to see you succeed for recomendation and referral

I encourage you to recognize what makes your heart beat, what makes you lose track of time, what pulls you out of bed in the morning. You need to be doing something but that doesn’t mean you need to be doing everything.

Be contributive and do your best at whatever you do and related opportunities will continue to show up. Eventually, you will have an application that really stands out, however, not becasue of many prestigious titles but the journey of road less traveled and the character you have become.

Find a degree’s worth and its job prospects

In this post, I share an exercise to assess a degree’s worth and job prospects by surveying career potential from alumni, stats from Bureau of Labor Statistics, and more.

Going over this exercise will not only give you a glimpse of your post-graduation future but give you a good idea of where your opportunities lay and potential employers.

It will give you the motivation to get a degree and colleges will be happy you do your research and gladly accept you because you have a plan after graduation. In contrast, most students don’t.

Clarify Your Goals (also, golds)

Muhammad Ali’s famous quote – “If my mind can conceive it and my heart can believe it – then I can achieve it.” We all agree that education is helpful. The outcome of education can be vague and hard to track sometimes. When we lose sight, we also lose motivation. 

In this exercise, you will go through a series of research on yourself, potential jobs, and earning potentials. Once you identify a few jobs that pay well, look into their educational qualifications. You will get an idea of what kind of degree or certificate you need to get the job you want and the pay that is worth pursuing the education.

Let’s get started with you! Emotion is what drives us to wake up and do exciting things. Imagine you have a job that gives you excitement every day because its work is something you enjoy doing. You can look back at your life experience and find out the activities you enjoy doing and get clues about what jobs might give us the same enjoyment. 

  1. Write down the activities that excite you. Try to think about the events that involve helping others in different ways. For example, I like to listen to people’s stories; I can help people by listening to their problems and discuss solutions.

I am not asking you about your passion. I am asking you to think about how you would like to help one person, a group of people, animals or animals, or anything.  If you can help one stranger, you can find a way to help millions.

Skills are transferable. The skills that you develop in life in the things that you do have value. If you can find a job that employee those skills and because you enjoy doing those activities, you will find a job that you enjoy doing. 

  1. Go to O*NET OnLine and check out more details about those jobs. You want to make sure your expectation matches the reality that the job performs as expected, and it exists.

You cannot believe there are so many different job titles out there! Everyone can find jobs that they like. Take a Career Assessment or just explore thousands of different careers. 

Job titleTasks that you enjoy doingWork activities you like

Your education is going to cost you some money. It’s important to do what you like to do and make sure you can make enough money to pay back your tuition, so you don’t need to worry about not paying back your tuition loan or not making enough money to have a good life.

  1. Visit Job Salaries and look up the salary of the three job titles you found above.
Job Title 1:
Salary Range:
Monthly Earning:
Hourly Rate:
Is it enough for the lifestyle you want to have? If not, how much more?
Job Title 2:
Salary Range:
Monthly Earning:
Hourly Rate:
Is it enough for the lifestyle you want to have? If not, how much more?
Job Title 3:
Salary Range:
Monthly Earning:
Hourly Rate:
Is it enough for the lifestyle you want to have? If not, how much more?

Why settle? Pick the one you like the best, in terms of compatibility and earning. You have 2-4 years to prepare for this job, and education is part of the preparation. Let’s find out the right education that will get you the job. 

  1. Search for the job sites of your favorite companies and see if they have an opening. You are not applying, just planning and preparing. Look up at least 3 of them and copy and paste the link below. I provided some popular tech companies’ career sites – Google Careers: Build for Everyone | Help us build Earth’s most customer-centric company. | Facebook Careers | Jobs at Apple | Netflix Jobs 

Don’t see any job posting of the job title? Try to use different job search websites. 

Job Posting 1:
Job Posting 2:
Job Posting 3:
  1. Identify education, licenses, and/or certificate qualifications.

You are looking for something like “Bachelor’s degree or equivalent post-secondary degree in …” or  “A current, active certification… issued by the State of California …” 

For example,




Related Experience

I encourage you to explore your career choices a little deeper by doing an informational interview. However, you have all the essential information you need before writing your educational goal. 

  1. Describe your educational goal. It should include how did you come to choose this degree or certificate, what qualifications will this education help you achieve, how do you plan to finish the degree and apply to which jobs? Here are some student examples

College admission pro tip #1 – know what they are looking for

I share a list of items that admission officers care about so you know what marks to make in this post. That really helps your admission officers to SEE you.

When I was in high school, I was reluctant to “comply” with what’s seen to be good. I only did the schoolwork that I thought was worth doing.

For example, I got As on all my exams but ended with semester B on AP Calculus. For?

I wanted to prove that you don’t need to do homework and still be good at math. But in fact, I learned before I joined Arcadia High School in junior year. I was just showing off, really.

Colleges could not QUICKLY recognize me as the math genius I thought I was in my Calculus class with that B.

They saw me as a student with a B in AP calculus. “So unfair!” I thought.

On the other side of the table, “I wish I could learn more about this student beyond grades and all, but I can’t because of time contains and so many applicants…

If you don’t know how to present yourself, it makes it hard for admission officers to see you.

Help them out, help yourself.

Get good marks, get awarded, get recognized, and accomplish things to show.

people sitting on chair in front of table while holding pens during daytime

What do admission committees look at? Here is the list:

  • Academic Record:
    • GPA
    • Class Rank
    • Rigor of Curriculum
  • Standardized Test Scores:
    • SAT
    • ACT
    • SAT2
    • AP Exam
    • Other
  • Engagement Outside of the Classroom:
    • Extra-Curricular Activities
    • Community Service
    • Work Experience or Creative Project
    • Other
  • Personal Qualities:
    • Letter of Recommendation
    • College Essays (Theme)
    • Counselor Interview Report
    • Other
  • Hooks and Institutional Priorities:
    • Legacy Connection
    • Donation Potential
    • Underrepresented Ethnicity
    • Socioeconomic/
    • Geographic Background
    • Exceptional Talents
    • Level of Interest

Make a copy of this Google Doc worksheet to do some goal-setting for each item so you can keep your eye on the prize. While you focus on doing what matters to you, make sure you also get the results for admission officers to easily recognize your effort.

Show your interest to colleges and they will show you the way

Make a college list.

“I mean for real. Start listing all the colleges right now.” I say to all my students at the beginning of their college counseling, and I hope they have something.

“So, why do you want to go to those colleges? Other than ‘my parents want me to go’ or ‘because I heard they are famous and highly ranked’,” I ask them next.

They often cannot come up with some unique answers on the spot and they always have Stanford, Caltech, MIT, Dartmouth, and other Ivy League schools. “Oh man, I hope he/she forget it, it’s already too late” I think to myself.

I hope they start explore sooner and keep their options open. Without a strong and unique reason, they are not going to get in any of the highly ranked schools.

See how other students got in some of the extremely selective colleges and get some ideas about your reasons of choosing the colleges on your list.

Can Admissions Tell If I lie?

By the question, I presume that you have something inauthentic.

In general, dishonesty will come back to haunt you one way or another. Reality is intricate. Dishonesty twists the reality, and reality will snap back the harder you twist the truth.

Anyway, I am not here to preach philosophy or life lessons.

They don’t need to check. It’s obvious.

As you grow up (the adult brain is more vigilant to lies too due to neurological development) and gain more experience on a specific subject, you will automatically develop the ability to detect lies and discrepancies in things.

That is no different for an experienced college admission officer who has read thousands of applications.

“Then I have nothing to write!”

That is probably bad news for students who do not have “accomplishments.”

The good news is that college admissions are not looking for any particular accomplishments. They look for students with strong drives and motivation to do something with their college campus resources. They also look for evidence if the applicants have already done everything they could within their environmental constraints.

For example, Student A from an affluent high school has 5 on 4 APs while other students from the same school pretty much do the same.

And, we have Student B from a local urban school that doesn’t offer a lot of APs, but she took college-level classes from community college because of her passion for chemistry, but her high school doesn’t have a good chem teacher.

Student B has a better student profile than Student A because Student B will do better in college than Student A.

I used academics because it’s easy to illustrate, but the same idea applies in different areas, such as extra-curricular activities, passion projects, or volunteer opportunities.

Look at your achievements (more like everything you have done in high school) and talk about how you are so driven to learn or pursue something that your environment doesn’t limit you.

Use your application to show actions you took and results from them.

Use the personal statement essay to show your thought processes and stories behind your actions.